The Sadness of the Almost-Friend
She was cool, hip, with an oversized shirt and a deep southern drawl. Emma was working for an organisation which linked lonely, elderly people to visitors.
“I’ve got a special one for you! I think you’ll be able to handle her,” she tells me. Since moving to Victoria, leaving my Gran in Sydney and finding more time on my hands, this was perfect.
The lady, Barbara, was a real firecracker. A conspiracy theorist of the highest order. She spent our first meeting outlining how September 11 was masterminded by the American government. It was on YouTube for anyone to see the evidence!
I was pregnant and tired and she started on vaccinations. “Why anyone would be so dumb to trust the big pharma’s with that poison they pump…” I made an excuse to leave, I was running late to get my flu shot with the doctor.
I’d catch up with Emma and tell her the latest conspiracies from Barbara. She had an intense curiosity of people and enjoyed Barbara’s zaniness as I did. We made plans to interview elderly people and collate their stories as part of a photography exhibition.
We had the makings of a great friendship: endless chats about creative projects, long walks, beach days, sussing out the best Asian eat-outs in the hood. She would tell me about her plans to have a baby. I got pregnant.
The last time I saw her was dinner out two months before I gave birth. Emma and her wife were going to see a gig at the local pub and my husband and brother came out to meet them. There was nothing spectacular or even any weirdness, just a regular, fun night.
A few text exchanges after that and then my birth announcement. She was in Tasmania but ‘couldn’t wait for a cuddle when she got back’. That was the last message I got.
It’s hard not to hypothesise: perhaps my having a baby was a convenient time to slip off the radar under the guise of busyness or not wanting to impose. Or perhaps my dropping off the radar to survive the first few months was interpreted as a snub. I relied on people asking me when they could come to visit rather than extending out invitations.
I looked her up on Instagram the other day and noticed she’d unfollowed me. A simple but intentional act: you may as well say to someone ’I’m done with you’.
I could always just pick up the phone. But it feels though the moment’s passed. The friendship wasn’t established enough to survive, and my time is now taken up pursuing other friendships, as I assume is hers.
Clare Rojas writes in The New York Times: “Among the largely unacknowledged truths of contemporary female life is that women’s foundational relationships are as likely to be with one another as they are with the romantic partners who, we’re told, are supposed to complete us.”
I moved interstate at a time when my relationship with my husband was getting serious. I was searching for girlfriends to help me through, starting from scratch. Each new friend felt like a date: would I see her again? Should I text? Did she like me? Is this going anywhere?
Four months after I had my baby girl, a Canadian friend from Sydney came down to visit. We planned a trip out to Daylesford, an idyllic village nestled in the foothills of the Great Dividing Range: full of hipster cafes, up-market gift shops, bakeries and art galleries.
We wove our way through the Victorian countryside, past hills speckled with vibrant canola, shaggy sheep and lambs with spindly shanks. A kookaburra settled on a roadside branch posing for Instagramming tourists. Tall gums towering over the road, mysterious cathedrals guarding grey forests.
Matilda was rugged up in her capsule, asleep. Tazia and I chatted flat out. Politics, religion, child-rearing and work. It felt like breathing. She’d left her almost-two year old at home for two nights, the longest she’d been away from him.
Tazia and I were friends years before babies came along. She lived through my dating escapades and I would join her on foodie adventures around Sydney. We worked together and supported each other through a whole host of workplace politics.
We gradually became each other’s cornerstones, unspooling our lives over endless cups of tea.
Then one day, Tazia and her husband moved back to Canada and were there for a few years until I moved to Victoria and, much to our dismay, they returned to Sydney.
“Unlike my few youthful romances, which had mostly depleted me, my female friendships were replenishing, and their salubrious effect expanded into other layers of my life.” Clare Rojas
Tazia baked cookies and helped around the house and cuddled Matilda and in a flash, she was gone. It was bittersweet. I felt the loss deeply, like an ache.
But at the same time, a resurged confidence in our friendship. It had already survived the distance, my shabbiness at responding to texts, both our babies.
The roots went deep.
She reminded me that good friendships aren’t found, like sniffing out truffles. They required patience and work to build them, letting them solidify through time and shared experience.
“For many women, friends are our primary partners through life; they are the ones who move us into new homes, out of bad relationships, through births and illnesses. Even for women who do marry, this is true at the beginning of our adult lives, and at the end — after divorce or the death of a spouse.” Clare Rojas
My friendships here are starting to deepen as I rewrite my life again. It’s easy to grieve the friendships which were left behind or never eventuated.
But there are always new sprouts, fledgeling saplings growing up through the shrubbery. Some will survive.
They are my renewed hope.
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